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The Inside Track | Mike Penner SOUND AND VISION

The Answer to Any Laker Turmoil? Forget About It

May 29, 2004|Mike Penner

Winning cures everything, or so we have been told, but that was before the Hatfields and the McCoys put that old chestnut to the fire by pulling up stakes and deciding to play for the Lakers this season.

A fascinating, irritating study in group dysfunction, the brooding and brawling home basketball team plays tonight in Minnesota, where it will either close out the Western Conference finals or sleepwalk back to L.A. for a Game 6 on Monday.

It's a tossup, really. It can go either way. If Shaq gets bored, or the Lakers fall behind by too many points in the third quarter, the Staples Center ticket-takers better be ready to work the holiday.

TNT will bring you the action -- or inaction, depending on which mood strikes -- at 5:30 p.m. Ordinarily, a television network owning the rights to Game 5 of a Laker playoff series would be hawking the telecast with can't-resist teasers, such as: "The Lakers brought in the Mailman just for this moment! Stay tuned to see if they mail it in again!"

Instead, the TNT studio crew Thursday night sounded resigned to the inevitable -- that the Lakers were about to yawn their way into the NBA Finals, and there's not a thing anyone can do about it.

The Timberwolves, Kenny Smith said, "don't have enough talent; they can't beat the Lakers."

Magic Johnson agreed. "They just don't have enough firepower to beat the Lakers."

Charles Barkley: "If Minnesota had [a healthy] Sam Cassell, they'd lose to the Lakers anyway. ... It's just a matter of how long this series is going to go."

Already, the countdown has begun on the Lakers' fourth -- and most joyless -- championship of the Shaq-Kobe era. Winning might not cure everything -- the end of that era could be weeks away -- but early signs indicate that it surely encourages amnesia.

This was O'Neal on Thursday on TNT's postgame show, talking about Karl Malone and Gary Payton:

"The thing that surprised me the most is that they haven't complained one bit. There's four of us that have been putting up numbers our whole career. We've all been putting up 20, 25 shots.... And they're sharing the ball and they haven't complained and it's just been fun."

The thing that surprised me the most is that no one at TNT immediately ran tape of Payton complaining about his role in the triangle on every day ending in the letter "y."

Earlier in the interview, Smith observed that, "Watching the games, it really, to me, seems like right now, playing against Minnesota, you all fight more with yourselves than Minnesota."

O'Neal didn't dispute that, but he didn't consider it much of a concern, either.

"That's been our problem my 80 years here," he quipped. "Getting along with ourselves."

This season, the feuding began before the opener, with Shaq and Kobe taking shots at each other, prompting Smith and Barkley to take shots at Shaq and Kobe for taking shots at each other, prompting Shaq to take a shot at Smith, calling him "a bum" after the Lakers' first game.

Ernie Johnson brought the issue up Thursday night, telling O'Neal, "This season began on kind of a sour note as far as our studio crew, and, well, one member of our crew in particular. You called Kenny a bum at one point, Shaq. And I just wondered if here late in the season we can reconcile things and you guys can see eye to eye."

O'Neal: "No, no. Bum stands for 'beautiful understanding man.' "

That brought Smith to his feet to slap hands with O'Neal and happily announce, "Give me some of that! That's what I'm talking about!"

Johnson looked at his clipboard and, speaking for thousands of viewers looking on, deadpanned, "My whole balloon has been popped on that one."

Five victories separate the Lakers from the title, but, already, the Great Revisionism is underway.

Also available for viewing this weekend:

TODAY

* French Open

(Channel 4, 9 a.m.)

Why all the fuss about Marat Safin's dropping his shorts at the net during a second-round victory at Roland Garros? All he was doing was paying tribute to the American men entered in the tournament. All 10 of them, gone by the second round.

NBC takes over from ESPN this weekend with no Andre Agassi and no Andy Roddick. Which means NBC becomes the American Women's Tennis Channel this weekend.

* Tampa Bay Lightning at Calgary Flames (Channel 7, 5 p.m.)

North of the border, Calgary versus Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup finals is a big deal. Game 1, won by the Flames, drew the CBC's second-largest audience for an NHL telecast -- trailing only Vancouver-New York Rangers in Game 7 of the 1994 finals, the last time a Canadian club advanced to the NHL's last round.

South of the border, ESPN's rating for Game 1 was 1.1 -- down 21% from the 1.4 rating Game 1 of the 2003 finals earned. That 1.1 made the Stanley Cup finals the 19th most-watched program on cable Tuesday night.

This spin just in from the NHL's main office: "Hey! We cracked the top 20!"

SUNDAY

* Indianapolis 500

(Channel 7, 8 a.m.)

So what do you do if you're ABC and you see that the NASCAR bandwagon is out of the garage and burning laps for Fox, NBC and TNT? You re-up with the Indy Racing League through 2009, mount some new cameras on cars and drivers' helmets this weekend and hope people want to tune in to watch promos for next weekend's NBA Finals.

* Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodgers

(ESPN2, 5 p.m.)

How many baseballs are used during the course of a major league game? Fox Sports Net 2 kept track during Wednesday's Dodger-Brewer game, which lasted 12 innings. Total for nine innings: 79 baseballs. For 12 innings: 99. Now you know. Before the game, FSN2 asked several Dodgers for their predictions. "I think it'll be 85," Robin Ventura said, "if [Jose] Lima doesn't get in the game.... Because if he gets in the game, then coming off the field, he's going to throw at least 20 in the stands."

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